Are you practising or improving your listening? What’s the difference?

Can you pick up a language just by listening?

I’ve written before that I don’t think it’s very helpful for beginners to start watching Vietnamese TV, hoping to magically pick up the language.

If you think about it, babies listen for a long time before they start speaking.

I’m not saying that listening is not important. In fact, I think it’s the most important skill to be able to have a genuine conversation. But there’s a difference between listening for fun and focused listening to improve your listening ability.

What are listening skills?

Vietnamese listening skills can be defined as your ability to comprehend, respond and communicate in Vietnamese. This is essential for a good conversation!

What do you mean by “practising listening”?

Practising Vietnamese listening is fun listening activities – watching movies, listening to music, chatting to friends. We do these things because we enjoy them, and they also help to attune our ears to the sounds of Vietnamese.

To be able to understand Vietnamese of course you have to listen a lot to get used to the sounds of a language. However, you often “hear” what you want to hear, you skip over words you don’t know or you’re having a conversation and your main focus is thinking about what you’ll say next!

Think of song lyrics in your native language – sometimes you mishear certain words (like Taylor Swift’s “star-crossed lovers” sounds like “starbucks lovers”).

Listening for fun is great, but simply listening may not result in increased comprehension.

What do you mean by “improving your Vietnamese listening skills”?

If you struggle with listening, you need to figure out why.

Read: What exactly is your problem with listening?

Only then can you make a targetted plan to improve your listening.

#1 common listening problem – lack of vocabulary

Often you’ll find vocabulary is your main problem, so you can turn to podcasts for learners like VPod101* or YouTube mini lessons. Beginners can try an audio course like Pimsleur*.

These learning materials tend to contain a dialogue and then explain new vocabulary before you listen to the conversation a second time. You can use these materials to study.

#2 common listening problem – recognising words you know

Sometimes it’s accents or the speed of natural speech that’s a problem. In that case you can slow down audio or use subtitles. This is a temporary measure to help attune your ear.

How to improve your listening with active listening techniques

Improving your Vietnamese listening skills will help you to better understand what people are saying and to pick up on important details. It will also help you become more comfortable speaking Vietnamese, as you will be able to understand more of what people are saying

To be able to improve your listening skills, you need to pay attention to everything that is being said. For this reason it’s important to choose materials suitable for your level and not materials that are too difficult.

Step 1: Choose suitable materials

Useful materials for improving your listening may include:

To be able to focus on improving your listening, you want to understand 90% or more of the words. If you can’t understand most of the words, you’ll be practising listening while you try to figure out the vocabulary.

Step 2: Use active listening techniques

Just listening is fine when you’re listening for pleasure. To improve your Vietnamese listening skills you can:

When you improve your listening, you will be able to better understand the people around you. You will be able to make more meaningful connections with native speakers and build a foundation for future learning.

I suggest a mixture of practising listening (listening for pleasure) and focused tasks to improve your listening in Vietnamese.


Learn Vietnamese with audio – how to use podcasts to learn Vietnamese

Audio and podcasts are a great way to learn Vietnamese as you don’t have to be sat at a desk or a computer to learn. Unlike video you can listen in the car, while out for a walk or when doing tasks around the home.

I’m a big fan of podcasts for language learners. Podcasts have been one of the main materials I used to learn Russian. I wish there had been more podcasts around when I started learning Vietnamese a decade ago!

In this post, we’re going to discuss the benefits of podcasts and some ways to use audio to learn Vietnamese.

What are the benefits of learning Vietnamese through audio?

There are a number of benefits to learning Vietnamese through audio, and in particular, podcasts.

  • Podcasts are informative. The hosts will often discuss topics related to Vietnamese culture, history and modern life in Vietnam. This is a great way to learn about the language and the country.
  • Podcasts are easy to listen to on the go or at home while you cook or do housework. All you need is a phone and an internet connection (or download an episode to listen to offline).
  • Vietnamese learning podcasts are great to learn or brush up on vocabulary or grammar. Many podcasts are designed for beginner and intermediate learners of the language. This makes them understandable.
  • Podcast episodes are short and the material is easy to follow. They’re conversations or a monologue on a particular topic or theme.
  • Podcasts are affordable. Some are free, and learner podcasts tend to have low cost monthly subscriptions.

How To Use Podcasts To Learn Vietnamese

How do you choose the right Vietnamese audio to listen to?

There are a couple of things that you need to consider when choosing Vietnamese podcasts to listen to. These include:

1. The level of difficulty of the audio

If you’re listening for pleasure you’ll want the content to be easy and enjoyable. If you’re looking for learning materials, you’ll want to choose something for your level.

2. The format and type of content on the podcast

With learning podcasts, you tend to hear a conversation between two people in Vietnamese followed by some explanations of the vocabulary and grammar used in the conversation. These can be in Vietnamese or in English. At a lower level, it might be helpful to hear some English. As your level improves, you’ll probably prefer your podcasts to be 100% in Vietnamese.

3. The accents of the speakers

As with all Vietnamese materials, you may have a preference for a Northern or Southern accent and vocabulary.

3 Vietnamese podcasts

Vietnamese podcasts for learners

1. VietnamesePod101 (multiple levels) (Northern)

The longest-established Vietnamese podcast for learners.

Podcasts are grouped in themes and functions. The lessons are well-organized and easy to follow. There is also plenty of helpful content included in each episode so you can practice your skills on a real-world context.

You can start with a completely free 7 day trial. After that there’s a monthly subscription, starting from $1, which gives you access to podcasts on a range of topics and from beginner to high intermediate.

There are extra features like flashcards or, if you choose Premium Plus, support from a tutor. The company also make podcasts in other languages.

2. Your Vietnamese Tutor (Elementary/Low Intermediate) (Northern)

There are a handful of free podcast episodes and for $29 you can get 30 podcast conversations in Vietnamese, which come with the Vietnamese transcript and English translation.

3. Learn Vietnamese with Annie (multiple levels) (Southern)

You probably already know about Learn Vietnamese with Annie from Youtube.

She also has a podcast. There are several free sample episodes and over 600 subscription episodes available on a $10 monthly subscription.

How can I use audio and podcasts to learn Vietnamese?

Here are some ways to use audio and podcasts to learn Vietnamese:

1. Use Vietnamese audio to practice listening.

Listen with a purpose. When listening to any type of audio content – including Vietnamese podcasts – it’s important to have a purpose in mind. This means that you should try not only listen actively but also take notes or make flashcards while listening so that you can review the material later on in more detail.

You can use active listening techniques link transcribing to improve your listening ability.

2. Use Vietnamese audio to practice pronunciation and fluency.

You can practice your pronunciation by repeating lines from the dialogue. You can pause and repeat after the speaker to work on pronunciation.

For fluency, you can use the transcript and read it out at the same time as the speaker.

3. Use Vietnamese audio to learn vocabulary and grammar.

Vietnamese audio and many podcasts are designed for learners of the language, with a good balance of vocabulary you already know and new vocabulary and structures. Jot down and learn new words and phrases from the podcast to enrich your vocabulary. Other episodes may focus on a particular grammar structure.

These podcasts can be used as bitesize lessons.

4. Use a Vietnamese podcast to supplement your textbook.

One option is to look for podcasts on the same topic as you’ve been studying. This can provide you with extra listening practice as well as extra vocabulary on the topic.

Once you have a good foundation in the language, you can then start listening to Vietnamese podcast episodes that focus on specific topics or vocabulary items that interest you. Published materials can cover a narrow range of themes. The beauty of extra materials like podcasts is the wide range of topics available. You can pick and choose episodes that you’re interested in.

How can I use Vietnamese audio and podcasts to practice my conversation skills?

One of the great things about Vietnamese language podcasts is that they are usually based on a dialogue. They are full of common question and answers. You can use this useful language to prepare your own responses and then practice with a language partner or teacher. Tell them the topic of the podcast episode you listened to and ask them to discuss the topic with you

How To Use Podcasts To Learn Vietnamese

Podcasts are a great way to supplement your Vietnamese learning. In this post, we’ve covered the benefits of using podcasts to learn Vietnamese, as well as how to choose the right Vietnamese podcasts to listen to and how to listen to them. By exploring these podcasts, not only will you be learning interesting vocabulary but also gaining an understanding of the cultural context surrounding Vietnam.


Improve your listening by transcribing (study technique)

Today we continue looking at listening. Last week we checked that it’s listening we’re struggling with.

Here’s a technique to help you diagnose your listening problems. The basic idea is that you watch a video or listen to some audio and write down what you hear – ie. you transcribe it.

Why should you do this?

By transcribing what you hear, you are able to compare this with the transcript and find out where you’re having problems. Doing this regularly can help you to find out what your listening problems are.

Focused, active listening is useful. Passive listening alone won’t improve your listening skills. There are many ways to listen actively, but that’s a subject for another day. If you want to use a video or podcast to learn new expressions, we have an article for that.

What you need

  • Some audio or a video that you can mostly understand. You must also have subtitles or a transcript.
  • A pen and paper.

Because this technique is focusing on your listening ability, it’s key that the content should be familiar so that you won’t come across too many new words.

Learning to deal with new words is an important listening strategy, but is only one strategy of the many you need to become a competent listener. Today we’re looking for listening problems, not vocabulary problems. It would also be really discouraging to try this when you barely understand what’s being said!

There are some suggestions for materials at the end of this article.

How to do it

1. Choose a short video or audio

Transcribing is time-consuming, even in your native language. You have to replay the video many times to allow yourself time to write and to check if what you’ve written is correct.

Choose audio under 3 minutes for sure. I recently transcribed a 3 minute audio in English for a lesson and that took me ages. So I’d recommend something shorter – 30 seconds or 1 minute can also be worthwhile.

This doesn’t mean you have to find 1 minute audio clips. Even for a short video like Annie’s, you don’t have to transcribe the whole thing. Just choose a section. For example, if they’re having a conversation, you could transcribe until they change topic.

2. Listen to the audio or video the whole way through

Start off by listening to the material the whole way through. Don’t take any notes or worry about catching every word. The aim here is to just understand the general message or conversation.

If you’re watching a video, turn off any subtitles. If your video has vocabulary that pops up on screen, either don’t watch the video or cover up that part of the video so you can’t cheat by looking at it.

No cheating!
No cheating! I covered up the right hand part of the screen where new vocabulary appears

2. Transcribe the audio or video

Replay the audio or video (still without subtitles). This time pause frequently (for example, every half sentence) so you can write down what has just been said.

A lot of the time you’ll have to replay a segment because you’ve not heard or forgotten what was just said. This is a natural part of transcribing (it’s the same for your native language).

Sometimes there will be a problem word or phrase and even after replaying it a few times you’re still unsure. Don’t worry about it. Just take a guess, write any letters or sounds you have heard. You can also just leave a space and move on. It doesn’t matter if this doesn’t make sense – just write what you hear. This will come in useful when you compare with the transcript.

If you are watching a video with pop-up vocab, you can have a look at the screen after you’ve had a guess.

I didn't know the word for diary before so I had a look.
I had a look at the pop-up vocabulary. I didn’t know the word for diary before so of course I couldn’t understand it.

When you’re finished, quickly read through your transcript looking for any spelling mistakes.

2b. optional replay

You can play the whole audio again with your transcript and check for any mistakes. Or you can focus on the gaps you have and see if you can hear them now you have a fuller picture from your transcript. You may be sick of hearing it by now though, so this step is optional!

3. Compare your transcript with the subtitles

Play the audio or video a third and final time, with Vietnamese subtitles or while reading at the transcript. Compare it with what you’ve written.

I couldn’t find my Vietnamese notebook, so here’s one in Spanish.

Check both for mistakes and words you didn’t hear. Highlight or use a different colour to make a note of these mistakes.

Comments on my problems with the Spanish transcript

In the example above I didn’t have a pencil so I highlighted the two areas I thought were wrong. The first one was actually right (I didn’t know the speakers were boyfriend-girlfriend so I thought it was weird to start the conversation with “Love”).

With the second highlighted area, it turned out to be a verb I don’t know (avisar). Of course I couldn’t understand because I’ve never seen this verb before! This is not a listening problem, but a vocabulary one. In terms of listening, I actually did ok as I had correctly heard some of the sounds.

You can also see on Line 2 some signs of listening problems. The words are squashed up as I had to listen a few times to get the words before “izquierda”. That’s OK.

I was also unsure about “me voy a” before “probar”, but I used my knowledge of Spanish grammar to help me work it out when I replayed the line. I probably should have highlighted that in a different colour because this may be a potential problem.

4. Study

Any new words should be recorded somewhere such as your study notepad or in Anki so you can learn them. If you’ve made any grammar mistakes, this is a good time to go back to your course book and revise that topic.

As for listening, once you have transcribed a few listening extracts, try to look for patterns.

  1. Is there a particular sound you are struggling with? For me, I struggle with the northern Vietnamese r. Northern gi- and d- are usually okay but the r- throws me on a regular basis.
  2. Are there words that you couldn’t separate? For example, you heard a nay (it doesn’t matter if this doesn’t make sense, or you don’t know the tones – just write what you hear) when they said anh ấy. This is a feature of speaking called connected speech and it often causes listening problems (especially in English!). We’ll look at this another time.

Once you’ve done this a few times, this is where you can start to diagnose your listening problems. Then, once you know your listening problems, you can then look at how to tackle them.


A note on choosing materials:

You can apply this technique to any material that’s relatively easy for you. Ideally when you read the transcript you should be able to understand everything (though a couple of new words is okay). If your audio is harder, use it to learn new words, not to improve your listening.

I was low intermediate when I used Annie’s video above which is for elementary learners. I was able to transcribe it pretty accurately with just a few problem areas. Similarly with the Spanish podcast, the grammar was not challenge so I was able to focus on my ability to listen and hear the sounds.

Some ideas for choosing suitable, easy materials:

  • A dialogue from a textbook that’s either a similar level or even better: a slightly lower level.
  • One of Annie Vietnamese’s diaries.
  • Any videos with subtitles that you can easily understand (but don’t look at the subtitles until you’ve finished transcribing!).
  • A podcast that comes with a transcript. Be careful if it’s a “teaching” podcast as they may have deliberately introduced new words or grammar. Natural speech is better if possible.

If you have interesting audio but there’s no transcript, you can get custom transcripts via

Over to you: What do you do to work on your listening? What problems are you having? Have you noticed any patterns?


4 common problems when listening in Vietnamese

Listening is the weakest skill for many language learners. To improve your listening, you first need to know what your listening problems are.

As an English teacher, I usually survey my students to find out what kind of listening problems they’re having. Sometimes the root of the problem is not their listening ability.

Is the problem really your listening skill?

This is usually my problem in a foreign language – my listening skills are ok, I understand coursebook audio and youtube videos that are at my level and I’m fine at understanding conversations in Saigon. What holds me back the most is unfamiliar vocabulary. So actually I need to improve my vocabulary, not my listening.

So first let’s check if your listening ability is your top problem.

4 common listening problems

The is the simplified checklist I’ve given to learners.

Problem 1 – There are too many new words

This is what I was referring to above. The real problem is not necessarily your listening ability. Either you need to increase your vocabulary or choose easier listening materials.

Problem 2 – People speak too fast

Here I’m getting at the changes that happen in fast, natural speech. In English we use a lot of connected speech and miss out a lot of sounds.

Problem 3 – I can’t hear what people say

This is one of two things – the extreme version is where it’s just a stream of sounds and you can barely pick anything out.

Another problem might be that you’re unable to hear familiar words. This could again be because of changes we make to words when we say them in fast, natural speech.

Problem 4 – I can hear but I don’t understand

This is where you can hear a lot of words but you’re not getting the overall message, or you’re missing key words and so not understanding.

It might also be because you’re focusing too much on trying to hear and understand every word, instead of using listening strategies to compensate when you don’t hear everything (just like we do in our native language!)

What’s going on? The answer is in listening processes

If you’re experiencing Problem 2 or 3, you’re struggling with what we call Bottom-Up listening processes. This relates to the very sounds of speech and this is where we need to focus to improve your listening.

If you’re experiencing Problem 4, you might benefit from working on what are called Top-Down listening strategies. This is where you draw on your existing knowledge, background and experiences (including borrowing from how you listen in your native language).

When we listen, we use both processes together (called interactive processing) in order to understand.

Over to you: Which of these listening problems is your number one issue?


Where to watch Vietnamese videos with subtitles

Last week I wrote that watching Vietnamese films or dramas as a beginner can be a fun way to immerse yourself in Vietnamese and help to attune your ear to Vietnamese. To make this enjoyable as a beginner, it’s best to watch the video with subtitles in a language you are fluent in (eg. English subtitles).

For elementary or intermediate learners who want to improve your listening or pick up new vocabulary, watching with Vietnamese subtitles can make native language material (which may be too fast or full of slang) accessible to you.

Here are 3 places you can find Vietnamese movies, films, dramas or short videos with either Vietnamese or foreign subtitles:

1. More Vietnamese’s “Vietnamese With Subtitles” playlist on YouTube (vi)

More Vietnamese youtube playlistI’ve put together a YouTube playlist of Vietnamese short films and other videos with Vietnamese subtitles.

Currently the playlist has 15+ videos and I’ll continue adding more as and when I find them.

2. Vietnamese movies and dramas on (en)

viki Fan-made subtitles for dramas and movies worldwide. Most Vietnamese videos on the site have been subbed in English, with a sizeable number also available in French and sometimes other languages. Update 2022: Only one show, Running Man, is available on viki.

Unfortunately the fans who make the English subtitles usually translate straight to English without putting up Vietnamese subtitles. I’ve previously used a VA to transcribe Episodes 2-4 of The Curse of Sapphire.

3. 10 Vietnamese Movies with English Subtitles (en)

A blog post recommending 10 Vietnamese movies with English subtitles and with links to some of them on YouTube.

Over to you: Do you watch Vietnamese films or dramas? Do you find using subtitles useful? Would you like to see more Vietnamese videos with Vietnamese subtitles?